Forget antioxidants or retinol—the next trendy anti-aging product could come from bees. Last year, 63-year-old Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, revealed that she was using bee venom as an ‘organic face-lift,’ and demand for bee venom masks since spiked. British beautician Deborah Mitchell, the maker of the Duchess-endorsed masks, recently signed a $164 million deal to offer her bee venom products in China.
Mitchell claims the paralyzing power of bee venom—which she calls ‘nature’s alternative to Botox’—can lift, tighten and firm face muscles to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It might sound ridiculously faddish (or frightening), but bee venom actually has quite an established history in the alternative medicine world.
In 1935, Hungarian doctor Bodog F. Beck published a book on “bee venom therapy” and it’s potential for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Beck offered bee venom therapy from his midtown-Manhattan office, using live bees from a hive kept on his windowsill.
And bee venom therapy was all the rage in 1930s Europe, especially in Germany and Austria. “In contrast to drug therapy, arthritics often continue to improve even after bee venom therapy treatments have been terminated,” wrote Charles Mraz in an intro to Beck’s book. Mraz called the therapy is “safe and effective” with “no adverse effects as long as a person is not allergic” to bees.
In the 1960s and 1970s, research on bee venom therapy was conducted at the Walter Reed Army Institute and at major U.S. universities. The American Apitherapy Society continues some of this research today, and pain-relief results continue to be promising.
I met a man last summer who swears by bee venom therapy for arthritis—and he takes his venom straight up, so to speak. But no need to go plant yourself in a lavender patch just yet; scientists can now collect pure bee venom and make it into an injectable solution that’s as effective as live bee stings.
Will it help your skin, though? That’s up for debate. As far as I can tell, none of the research on bee venom has actually focused on its alleged anti-aging or skin-care properties.
The only people claiming bee venom is the new Botox are those selling bee venom products. You could conduct your own personal bee venom as skincare research, but it won’t come cheap: Mitchell’s bee venom mask, which contains just 1% bee venom as well as Manuka Honey, sells for about $32 for 15 ml or $89 for 50 milliliters.
New Zealand company Abeeco recently began selling a similarly pricey bee venom mask, allegedly used by Kate Middleton and Gwyneth Paltrow. There are also lots of cheaper products, like honey soap and pain-relief balm, that contain bee venom. There’s no info on how effective these less-expensive products are—but, then again, there’s no official info on the effectiveness of the bee venom masks and creams, either.